Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse

By McHugh, Maureen C. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1989 | Go to article overview

Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse


McHugh, Maureen C., Violence and Victims


Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse. Kersti Yllo and Michele Bograd (Eds.). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1988. 318 pp. $35.00 hardcover; $16.95 paper.

In recent years, "most social scientists engaged in the study of woman abuse are explicitly antisexist and dedicated to ending wife abuse" (p. 16). Yet, most of the research on wife abuse has not been conducted with a feminist perspective, according to the editors of Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse. What is a feminist perspective? How does feminist research on wife abuse differ from traditional or nonfeminist research? What relationship does feminist research have to feminist theory and the activism of the feminist movement? These questions are addressed in this overtly feminist anthology of articles written on the conduct and application of research on wife abuse.

Most feminist research writing has concentrated on criticisms of mainstream methods. This anthology is exemplary in its ability to present succinct criticisms of mainstream or nonfeminist research and practice on domestic violence, and to extend our appreciation for and understanding of alternative approaches and methods. The feminist perspective is presented as a complex and evolving one that takes many forms.

No one author purports to know or have used "the feminist method"; rather, each of the authors presents the issues and concerns with which they have struggled while trying to conduct a feminist study on some aspect of wife abuse. The authors describe their research experiences with battered women or male abusers as they report their results; this approach is an innovative and distinctly feminist aspect of each chapter.

The volume avoids simplifying quantitative methods as being patriarchal and qualitative methods as being feminist. Kersti Yllo, in a discussion of her own use of both quantitative and qualitative methods, points out that feminist questions can be addressed using quantitative methods. Daniel Saunders explains how he combines a feminist approach with quantitative methods. Many of the other contributors describe research projects that are more qualitative.

Although they focus on the development of a feminist perspective in their own research, the authors are not reticent in their criticisms of other researchers and theorists, including those in the volume. Almost all of the chapters include some criticism of the conclusions of Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1980) concerning the mutuality of domestic violence and the incidence of husband abuse.

An introductory chapter by one of the editors, Michele Bograd, outlines four common dimensions in feminist thinking. These dimensions are similar to themes identified in other feminist methodology discussions (cf. Bleier, 1984; Harding, 1986; McHugh, Koeske, & Frieze, 1986; Stanley & Wise, 1983). This volume does not articulate a new perspective on what constitutes feminist research, but demonstrates how the principles can be applied to a diverse set of research questions within a single area. In this sense the book is unique and as valuable to those interested in feminist research as to those concerned about wife abuse. Several research projects reported in the volume are discussed here, divided into the four dimensions of feminist research discussed by Bograd.

(1) Dimensions of gender and power are fundamental to understanding wife abuse. In the feminist analysis, violence is the most overt and effective means of social control used by men to maintain dominance over women. All of the articles in the volume address gender. The book also offers insight on how nonfeminist wife abuse research discounts or ignores issues of gender. For example, the family systems approach to domestic violence obscures the fact that batterers are men and the victims are women.

Some of the most interesting articles in the volume deal explicitly with how male dominance is expressed and maintained by wife abuse. …

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